Elizabeth History

A Neighborhood Called Elizabeth
By Dr. Dan L. Morrill and Nancy B. Thomas

“The breezes of heaven blow their freshest, the light of the sun is at its brightest in this favored neighborhood.” — Charlotte Evening Chronicle, April 16, 1910.

college.jpgElizabeth is an unique neighborhood. It’s the only old neighborhood in Charlotte that is named for a woman. She was Anne Elizabeth Watts, whose husband, Gerard Snowden Watts, was in the tobacco business in Durham. Her son-in-law, Charles B. King, picked Charlotte as the location for a small Lutheran college for women that opened in 1897. Because Mr. Watts provided most of the money for the college, President King named it Elizabeth College in honor of his mother-in-law.

J.A. Dempwolf, an architect from York, Pa., designed the buildings. The campus was on the block where Presbyterian Hospital now stands, but in 1897, this was outside Charlotte, because McDowell Street formed the eastern edge of the city. Elizabeth Avenue, laid out in 1891, and widened in October 1897, ran from McDowell Street, crossed Sugar Creek and rose straight to the imposing entrance gates to the campus.

Elizabeth College stayed in Charlotte until 1915, when it moved to Salem, Va. It is hard to imagine how serene and bucolic the campus was in those days. Where ambulances now dash to the emergency room entrance, elegant Victorian damsels once dabbled at tennis. Presbyterian Hospital bought the block in 1917 and moved there from W. Trade Street. The main building of Elizabeth College, which served Presbyterian Hospital for many years, was demolished in 1980.

The Highland Park Land and Improvement Co. contributed $3600 to entice Elizabeth College to Charlotte. The company reasoned that the college would increase the value of a large tract of land which the company owned nearby. They were right. The Elizabeth neighborhood, named for the college, became one of the most fashionable areas in Charlotte. Such important community leaders as William Henry Belk, founder of the Belk Department Stores, lived there. Most of the earliest houses were built on Elizabeth Avenue and on the streets that crossed it, like Travis Avenue and Torrence Street. The pace of development quickened after December 1902, when the Charlotte Consolidated Construction Company completed a trolley line that ran from McDowell Street to Elizabeth College.

Elizabeth became part of Charlotte in 1907. Independence Park, the first public park in Charlotte, opened in the neighborhood at about the same time. The streetcar line was extended along Hawthome Lane, then Kingston Avenue, to the park entrance at Seventh Street. The designer of Independence Park was John Nolen, who would fashion Myers Park for the Stephens Company several years later.

belk2.jpgElizabeth has changed drastically since the turn of the century . The most important reasons have been the growth and expansion of the medical complex in the neighborhood and the building of Independence Blvd. in the late 1940’s. In recent years, however, Elizabeth has pulled up her petticoat and has started to come back. Great.

 

 


Lillian Arhelger Memorial – Independence Park Elizabeth Neighborhood
By Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission


Lillian Arhelger

 

I can hear the roar of the Glen Bernie Falls on that tragic Saturday in June, 1931. A cold and slippery mist is all around me as I watch the Girl Scouts from Myers Park Presbyterian Church arrive in Blowing Rock, N.C. Small feet leap into the air, and little palms come together in joyous anticipation. One of the children’s counselors is Lillian Arhelger, a confident, attractive 21-year old Texan who has just completed a year as a physical education teacher at Charlotte’s Central High School.

 


Lillian Arhelger is the tall lady standing on the far left of the back row of this photograph of the 1931 Girls’ Basketball Team of Central High School. A native of Fredericksburg, Texas, Arhelger was hired to bring “girls’ sports out of the well known wilderness.” She succeeded. The basketball team lost only four games “through a long and strenuous season.”

 

The girls bolt along the path to the top of the falls and leap onto the perilous rocks that border the precipice. Then disaster strikes. “Virginia is going over the falls,” her playmates scream. Lillian does not hesitate. She jumps into the swirling water and gropes for the hand of the desperate child. It’s too late. They both careen sixty feet downward into the deluge of the Glen Bernie Falls.

The child survives. Lillian lies crumpled on the other side of the river. Her skull is fractured. Pieces of a decayed log protrude from her mouth and nose. Somehow as if to atone for the tragedy, the children and the counselors hold vigil on the lawn of the Blowing Rock Episcopal Church, where Lillian’s limp and unconscious body waits for the ambulance. Lillian Arhelger died the next day in Lenoir, N.C., never having come out of a coma.

The students at Central High School were shocked when word arrived that Lillian was dead. They began a campaign to raise money to erect a memorial to their fallen teacher. The students knocked on doors all over town. The Charlotte Observer printed daily tallies. One thousand dollars was raised in less than three weeks–even in the depths of the Great Depression.

Landscape architect Helen Hodge designed the Lillian Arhelger Memorial in Independence Park. She captured the mood of the Glen Bernie Falls by using rock throughout and by making rushing water the major theme. Have you visited the memorial? It is a compelling place to go. “Those who make such sacrifice become enshrined in memory and glorified in recollection,” said the Charlotte News.

 

 

The Arhelger Memorial

The plaque at the memorial

The reflecting pool